You might be wondering, “Yoga!? Why is there a yoga page here, and what does stretching by a waterfall have to do with playing the violin?”
It is my personal belief that all musicians would benefit from a regular yoga practice. Posture awareness, breath control, a gradual development of mental strength and clarity: the benefits that yoga can introduce to one’s life are truly invaluable.
I began practicing Bikram yoga in the summer of 2009, and from my very first class, I was hooked. Bikram yoga is a fixed set of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises that are performed in a heated room (105℉, 40% humidity) and each class lasts for 90 minutes. Insane? Possibly. Effective? Definitely. Over the course of my regular Bikram practice, I have not only noticed changes in my outward appearance, but I have been able to adjust some unfortunate physical habits that I had built up over the years from my violin playing. Additionally, as it is no small feat to survive 90 minutes of yoga in a scorching hot room without falling over or dying, the Bikram sequence builds mental determination like you wouldn’t believe, as well as the ability to overcome most any seemingly impossible situation. I have since expanded my yoga repertoire to include other styles, each of which has offered broader insight into a true mind-body-spirit connection. My yoga practice is largely responsible for the sense of calm I am now able to access in even the most harrowing of performance circumstances. This is not to say that I am immune to pre-concert jitters, but I now know how to work with my nerves as opposed to against them.
Many musicians, in their quests to fulfill the intellectual and emotional sides of their craft, overlook the more athletic components — perhaps less often discussed, but in many ways just as relevant to effective music-making. An athlete would never launch into his or her physical acrobatics without properly nurturing and preparing the body; similarly, musicians should consider what an immense physical undertaking it is to play an instrument. Proper blood circulation and limber muscles are vital, given the amount of time we spend making strenuous, repetitive motions. Having had a myriad of physical issues with my violin playing for many years, I am immensely grateful for the better understanding of the human body that yoga has imparted to me, and I find it a fascinating ongoing study. Techniques and wisdom that I have absorbed in the yoga room creep into my violin teaching as well, and I often find myself encouraging students to spend as much effort thinking about the way their breath flows from their lungs, through their bow arms and onto the strings as they do agonizing over their intonation. All musicians should learn to treat their bodies with the awareness and respect they deserve, and to find joy in their physical connections to their instruments — and ultimately, to the music itself.
In 2017, my dear friend and fellow violinist/yogini Melissa White and I decided to truly practice what we’ve both been preaching and co-founded Intermission Sessions & Retreat, a program which explores the parallels between music and yoga. For more information, please visit www.intermissionsessions.com.